Great mountains, serene lakes, quaint villages, and traditional pubs make the Lake District National Park one of the most popular places to visit in England. But if you know where to go, it never feels crowded - there’s plenty of room for everyone and there’s a lot more to do than simply ticking off the sights.
The Lake District National Park was established in 1951 and was the second park in England to be named of national importance to the country's landscape. Although much of it is still privately owned by farmers and local families, the Lake District has a wealth of hiking trails, National Trust properties, and outdoor sports activities that make it a place everyone can enjoy.
Having travelled to over 80 countries, we chose the Lakes to call home because of its wild beauty and charming landscapes. In this guide to the Lake District, we share some of the best spots to visit - places that not everyone knows about and some that are simply must-sees.
Poets, writers, and hikers have argued over this question for hundreds of years. Hiker Alfred Wainwright would say the 214 ‘Wainwrights’ - fells that he meticulously mapped out throughout his life, are the best places to visit in the Lake District.
On the other hand, the author of the quintessential children's book Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter, would probably argue her Hill Top cottage in Hawkshead is the prettiest part of the national park.
Poet William Wordsworth definitely had a soft spot for Grasmere, with his family home at Rydal Mount and final resting place at Grasmere Church. So it really is down to personal taste; whether you’re beside a river, up a mountain, or staying in a picture-perfect village, the Lake District has some of the best nooks and crannies in England.
It's England's largest national park at 2362 square kilometres, but there are a few things that make the Lake District really stand out from the other beautiful spots in the country. It has the tallest mountain in England named Scafell Pike, standing at 978 metres, and also the largest lake in England - the 14.8 square-kilometre Windermere.
Other facts can make it seem less appealing. For instance, Seathwaite, a village near Keswick, has been named the wettest inhabited place in England, with 36 cm of rain per year! But it’s the damp weather that gives the Lake District its lush valleys, deep lakes, and vertiginous mountain passes.
This harsh outdoor landscape is a treasure trove of verdant nature, leisurely hilltop hikes, and a labyrinth of secret caves and valleys to uncover.
Everyone who comes to the Lake District will know of Windermere; the lake is filled with pleasure boats, kayakers, and day trippers from England's northern cities. As the largest and most accessible lake, it’s hard (but not impossible) to find a quiet spot along its banks.
Just a stone's throw away, Coniston is a better choice for first-timers. You can hire a boat at Coniston without fighting the crowds or jump on a steam yacht gondola to take a more leisurely tour of the lake.
The village itself is calmer than Bowness-on-Windermere, and keen hikers can climb ‘The Old Man of Coniston’ easily in a day. Easedale Tarn is another easy hike from Grasmere, a beautiful lake in itself, just a short walk from the village.
The Northern Lakes are quieter in general than the south. Start by taking the windy Kirkstone Pass to the stunning Ullswater.
Surrounded by great mountains and quiet beaches, it’s a cleaner and safer spot for a swim with less water traffic than its southern cousins. Take a trip on Ullswater Steamers to cross the lake, jumping off at Howton to walk along the western shore back to Glenridding.
Or visit the deepest lake in England at Wastwater. At a depth of 74m, it beautifully reflects the imposing Sca Fell range. It’s a little more out of the way, mainly attracting hikers looking to make the climb from Wasdale Head up to Scafell Pike.
If you’re further north, Buttermere has been enchanting visitors for generations. Take the scenic Honister Pass and visit Honister Slate Mine for a glimpse into the mining history of the area and to embark on a via ferrata in the mountains.
For a more bitesize piece of the Lake District visit one of the many tarns in the park. The man-made Tarn Hows was meticulously hewed from the land in the Victorian era to bring out the best views of the mountain landscapes it sits in.
For sheer natural beauty, though, Blea Tarn is hard to beat. From the right angle, the clear mountain water flawlessly reflects the Langdale Pikes, wonderfully framed by a small woodland of larch, Scots pine and silver birch.
One of the most impressive waterfalls in the Lake District is just next to Ullswater - Aira Force is 20 metres of plummeting water crossed by two Victorian-era bridges.
The most popular way to see the waterfall is a 2.1km circular loop taking around an hour to complete. Here and all over the lakes, you’ll spot a ‘wish tree’; a fallen tree trunk in which coins have been embedded for good luck.
For a flatter amble, Skelwith Force makes for a great family-friendly day out. Begin at the village of Elterwater and head along the river to Skelwith Bridge, the 30-minute walk takes in views of the Langdales and Loughrigg before reaching the thundering Skelwith Force waterfall.
Then enjoy a vegetarian lunch at Chesters by the River, before heading back to Elterwater. You can also climb up to Loughrigg Tarn on the return journey to experience a quieter part of the Lakes.
An easy walk from the touristy hub of Ambleside, Stockghyll Force is another of the Lakes' best waterfalls. The 21-metre cascade is best seen in wintery conditions when giant icicles engulf the falls.
There is no shortage of spectacular waterfalls to see in the Lake District, but the best ones can get busy and are best visited early in the morning or later in the day, especially in peak season.
While Scafell Pike attracts many for being the tallest mountain in the country, there are more interesting hikes in the Lakes. Helvellyn via Striding Edge is one of the most precarious climbs in the park, with steep drops and magnificent vistas.
While the easy 3-mile scramble up to Catbells is accessible for most hikers at the height of 1476 ft. Located near Keswick, it boasts panoramas over Derwentwater and the surrounding mountains.
A lesser-known Wainwright with some of the best views in the park is Side Pike. Take the 4.7-km loop trail from Blea Tarn via Lingmoor for breathtaking scenery in every direction.
There is some scrambling involved, as well as a tight gap between the rocks, but anyone with reasonable fitness levels can make the summit. There’s a mountain for just about everyone in the Lakes, just pick a ‘Wainwright’ and dress accordingly!
As previously mentioned, Bowness-on-Windermere is a little too popular and has lost some of its countryside charm. That said, there are some great attractions for children on a rainy day in Windermere like Beatrix Potter World, the Lakes Aquarium, and South Lakes Safari Zoo. For big kids, Go Ape Grizedale has epic zip lines and treetop courses to test your balance on.
Head north to Ambleside for some of the best food in the Lakes including the Michelin-starred Old Stamp House Restaurant. For literary history, visit Wordsworth Grasmere, a new museum dedicated to the local poet; you can also visit his family grave at the local church.
Make sure to try a slab of Grasmere Gingerbread, one of the Lake District's best culinary treasures. Along with Kendal Mint Cake and Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding, this sweet treat is synonymous with the Lakes and has been made here in the same way since 1854.
Keswick is probably the prettiest of all the Lake District towns. Encircled by mountains and positioned on the lake's edge, it’s crammed with quaint eateries, walking shops, and countless opportunities for outdoor adventure. Its pedestrianised highstreet and lakeside park means it’s a much more pleasant place to explore than the likes of Bowness, Windermere, or Ambleside.
The towns on the outskirts of the national park are also great places to visit or to stay when exploring the Lake District. Kendal is probably the best known, with the annual Kendal Mountain Festival and easy access to the M6 and the rest of the country.
Further north, Penrith is more of a traditional market town with the iconic Tebay Services and the grand Lowther Castle ruins. Other great places to stay in the Lake District to avoid the crowds include Cockermouth in the north, and the festival town of Ulverston in the south.
The Lake District is a great place to spot some of the best-known English wildlife, including red squirrels, badgers, deer, and birds of prey. The Badger Bar at The Glen Rothay Hotel near Grasmere offers a chance to see the local badger set while having a pint. They regularly feed pub scraps to the enigmatic critters, so it’s a great way to see these nocturnal animals up close without specialist gear.
The Lake District has become a refuge for a species that has been on the decline since the late 1870’s. There are several hotspots to see red squirrels, but Allan Bank in Grasmere is one of the best.
Another place to try and spot red squirrels in the Lake District is Whinlatter Forest Park in Keswick. While visiting the forest, stop by at Alpacaly Ever After for the chance to take Alpacas for a walk or go on day hikes with llamas. It’s a novel way to explore the Lakes, and your cash helps to care for these rescued animals.
Go for a walk anywhere in the lakes and it's likely you will find some incredible birdlife. For an almost guaranteed encounter head to Esthwaite Osprey Safari to get on the water and spot the osprey couple that nests on a small island in the lake. You may also see red kites, otters, heron and bittern.
There really is so much to do in the Lake District, but it’s best to avoid the busy areas around Bowness and Windermere, especially during the summer months. Instead, get out of the towns and discover the reason this place has had people coming back for generations - raw natural beauty.
Head out to the Langdale Pikes, take a drive along Kirkstone Pass, or set out on the Cumbria Way - a 5-day hike through the Lake District that takes in some of the best sights in the national park.
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Last Updated 25 May 2023